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What Should I Do If I Can't Pay the Rent Because of COVID-19?

Try to come to an arrangement with your landlord that minimizes the amount you owe now and lets you pay it later.

With 22 million people in the U.S. suddenly out of work, you can be sure that your landlord is getting ready to deal with situations where tenants are having trouble paying rent. They would prefer to work with you on a payment plan than not hear from you at all. Your first step should be to let your landlord know that your income was affected by the coronavirus pandemic and that you're hoping to find a solution that works for both of you.

Most professional landlord associations are offering specific guidance on negotiated agreements between landlords and tenants during the COVID-19 crisis. The National Multifamily Housing Council, for example, has told its landlord members to offer a combination of deferred rent and rent discounts, or to use security deposits towards unpaid rent. Suggest one or both of these options to your landlord.

What if I can pay some, but not all, of my rent?

In this case, you should suggest a rent deferral combined with a rent discount. Ask if your landlord can offer a discount that lasts only for the next 30-90 days. For them, this will be better than no rent at all or having to find a new tenant in this environment.

Tell them how much you owe and how much you are able to pay. The National Apartment Association has created a template form for agreeing on payment plans. Complete this form, making sure to specify in detail what you cannot pay now and how it will be paid back later, and share it with your landlord.

You can also get the conversation started with a simple letter reminding them of the unprecedented situation and describing how you have been affected. Here's an example letter to get you going.

What if I can't pay the rent at all?

If it’s legal according to your state's security deposit laws, landlords can agree to convert your deposit account into a payment account. This is allowed in most states, but before you suggest it, check out our overview of security deposit laws by state.

What if my landlord isn't willing to compromise?

Typically, your landlord would begin the eviction process if you didn't pay rent. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, however, your landlord most likely has to wait—either a few weeks or a few months—to get this process started. Many states and cities have enacted temporary laws to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic. Check local news sources to figure out when your landlord can legally start the eviction process. That way, you'll have a sense of how much time you have to negotiate with them, wait for government benefits, or find a more affordable rental, if necessary.

It's never legal for your landlord to kick you out without following a formal process dictated by state law. If they try anyway, follow our guide for what to do if someone tries to illegally evict you.

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.